Fam­ily free af­ter 5 years as cap­tives

Afghan ter­ror unit held par­ents, 3 kids

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - NATION & WORLD - By Jill Colvin, Lolita C. Baldor and Munir Ahmed

WASH­ING­TON — An Amer­i­can wo­man, her Cana­dian hus­band and their three young chil­dren have been re­leased af­ter years held cap­tive by a group that has ties to the Tal­iban and is con­sid­ered a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion by the United States, U.S. and Pak­istani of­fi­cials said Thurs­day.

U.S. of­fi­cials said Pak­istan se­cured the re­lease of Cait­lan Cole­man of Ste­wart­stown, Pa., and her hus­band, Cana­dian Joshua Boyle, who were ab­ducted five years ago while trav­el­ing in Afghanistan and held by the Haqqani net­work.

Cole­man was preg­nant at the time, and gave birth to her three chil­dren while in cap­tiv­ity, of­fi­cials said.

“To­day they are free,” Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said in a state­ment, cred­it­ing the U.S. govern­ment with se­cur­ing the re­lease “work­ing in con­junc­tion with the Govern­ment of Pak­istan.”

Trump later praised Pak­istan for its will­ing­ness to “do more to pro­vide se­cu­rity in the re­gion” and said the re­lease sug­gests other “coun­tries are start­ing to re­spect the United States of Amer­ica once again.”

The Pak­istani mil­i­tary said the fam­ily had been freed in “an in­tel­li­gence­based op­er­a­tion by Pak­istan troops” af­ter they’d crossed the border from Afghanistan.

Boyle and the High Com­mis­sioner for Pak­istan to Canada de­scribed a dra­matic scene in which gun­shots rang out as Boyle, his wife and their chil­dren were in­ter­cepted by Pak­istani forces while be­ing trans­ported in the trunk of their cap­tors’ car. Boyle told his par­ents there’d been a shootout and that the last words he’d heard from the kid­nap­pers were “kill the hostage,” his fa­ther, Pa­trick, told The Toronto Star. Three in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials said the con­fronta­tion hap­pened near a road cross­ing in north­west Pak­istan.

The high com­mis­sioner, Tariq Azim Khan, said, “We know there was a shootout and Pak­istan com­man­dos car­ried out an at­tack and res­cued the hostages.”

The Pak­istani mil­i­tary said early Thurs­day the fam­ily was “be­ing repa­tri­ated to the coun­try of their ori­gin.”

But as of Thurs­day mid­day, the fam­ily’s pre­cise where­abouts were un­clear, and it was not im­me­di­ately known when they would re­turn to North Amer­ica. The fam­ily was not in U.S. cus­tody, though they were to­gether in a safe, undis­closed lo­ca­tion in Pak­istan, ac­cord­ing to a U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cial, who wasn’t au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the case pub­licly and spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

A U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cial said that a mil­i­tary hostage team had flown to Pak­istan Wed­nes­day, pre­pared to fly the fam­ily out. The team did a pre­lim­i­nary health as­sess­ment of the fam­ily and had a trans­port plane ready to go. But some­time af­ter day­break there, as the fam­ily mem­bers were walk­ing to the plane, Boyle said he did not want to board.

An­other U.S. of­fi­cial said Boyle was ner­vous about be­ing in “cus­tody” given his back­ground.

Boyle was once mar­ried to Zaynab Khadr, the older sis­ter of for­mer Guan­tanamo Bay de­tainee Omar Khadr and the daugh­ter of a late se­nior al-Qaida fi­nancier. Her fa­ther, Ahmed Said Khadr, and the fam­ily stayed with Osama bin Laden briefly when Omar Khadr was a boy.

The Cana­dian-born Omar Khadr was 15 when he was cap­tured by U.S. troops fol­low­ing a fire­fight at a sus­pected al-Qaida com­pound. He was taken to Guan­tanamo and ul­ti­mately charged with war crimes by a mil­i­tary com­mis­sion. He pleaded guilty in 2010 to charges that in­cluded mur­der and was sen­tenced to eight years plus the time he had al­ready spent in cus­tody.

Sev­eral years ago, Zaynab Khadr and her mother up­set many Cana­di­ans by ex­press­ing pro-al-Qaida views.

Of­fi­cials had dis­counted any link between that back­ground and Boyle’s cap­ture, with one of­fi­cial de­scrib­ing it in 2014 as a “hor­ri­ble co­in­ci­dence.”

The cou­ple has told U.S. of­fi­cials they wanted to fly com­mer­cially to Canada, ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause he wasn’t au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly about the sit­u­a­tion.

The mil­i­tary of­fi­cial said the fam­ily is still in Pak­istan dur­ing dis­cus­sions about how and when they will leave, and said the U.S. is pre­pared to fly the fam­ily out if that is their choice.

The Toronto Star re­ported that Boyle spoke to his par­ents af­ter his re­lease. “Josh said he was do­ing pretty well for some­one who has spent the last five years in an un­der­ground prison,” his fa­ther told the pa­per.

“We got to hear his voice. It was amaz­ing. He told us how much his chil­dren were look­ing for­ward to meet­ing their grand­par­ents,” his mother, Linda Boyle, said.

Cole­man’s par­ents, Jim and Lyn Cole­man, mean­while, posted a state­ment on the door of their Penn­syl­va­nia home say­ing they ap­pre­ci­ated “all the in­ter­est and con­cern be­ing ex­pressed at the joy­ful news that Caity, Josh and our grand­chil­dren have been re­leased af­ter five long years of cap­tiv­ity.”

The cou­ple set off in the sum­mer 2012 for a jour­ney that took them to Rus­sia, the cen­tral Asian coun­tries of Kaza­khstan, Ta­jik­istan and Kyr­gyzs­tan, and then to Afghanistan. Cole­man’s par­ents last heard from their son-in-law on Oct. 8, 2012, from an in­ter­net cafe in what Boyle de­scribed as an “un­safe” part of Afghanistan.

The only trace of the cou­ple since had been videos re­leased by their cap­tors and fam­ily let­ters.

U.S. of­fi­cials call the Haqqani group a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion and have tar­geted its lead­ers with drone strikes. But the group also op­er­ates like a crim­i­nal net­work. Un­like the Is­lamic State group, it does not typ­i­cally ex­e­cute Western hostages, pre­fer­ring to ran­som them for cash.

TAL­IBAN ME­DIA

Cait­lan Cole­man talks in a video re­leased in De­cem­ber 2016, while her Cana­dian hus­band Joshua Boyle holds two of their chil­dren.

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